August 9, 2022

A version of this essay first appeared in Midlife Cues, a weekly newsletter about intentional living in our middle years. Get it in your inbox; you're going to love it.

The genius that was Pablo Picasso was apparently a vampire.

Not the blood-sucking kind, though.

From John Richardson’s Picasso biography: Picasso had a…

“… habit of making off not so much with their ideas as with their energy. […] After a pleasurable day in Picasso’s company, those present were apt to end up suffering from collective nervous exhaustion. Picasso had made off with their energy and would go off to his studio and spend all night living off it.”

People put up with it because, you know, Picasso!

But not Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian-born sculptor who recognized a vampire when he saw one. “Picasso is a cannibal,” Brancusi had said.

“Brancusi hailed from vampire country and knew about such things, and he was not going to have his energy or the fruits of his energy appropriated by Picasso.”

Artist and best-selling author Austin Kleon came up with his vampire test, a simple way to figure out who (or what) we should let in and out of our lives.

Do you feel worn out and depleted after hanging out with someone? If the answer is ‘yes’, that person’s a vampire.

From Kleon’s Show Your Work:

“Of course, the vampire test works on many things in our lives — not just people. You can apply the vampire test to jobs, hobbies, places, etc. Vampires cannot be cured.”

Bottom Line:

We’ve all experienced this. An exhausting person to be around; activities that suck the life out of everything; conversations that make you want to slam your head on a table. (“Have the lambs stopped screaming?”)

And we know what it’s like to have the opposite. What it’s like to be motivated, uplifted, challenged, energized, inspired… after a meal with someone, a chance encounter, a trip, a visit, a zoom call even.

In our midlife, let’s do like Brancusi and banish the former. More of the latter, pretty please.

Suggested Reading
  • Trust best-selling author Mark Manson to say (write) it like it is. It’s always a good thing to check if WE are, um…. the vampires ourselves 🤭 so we can do something about it. Of course, if we’re guilty of being one, it may be difficult to recognize it in ourselves (cue the excuses). But Manson, being Manson, is quite direct and blunt, which may help. Are You an Emotional Vampire?
  • It’s one thing to say “banish the energy vampires from our lives”. It’s a totally different can of beans when the vampire happens to be a family member. We’re all old enough now to know what this means. But age doesn’t always mean we know how to deal with it when it’s happening. Family has that unique ability to bring out the teenager in all of us. How to Navigate Difficult Relationships With Your Family
  • “At first glance, people-pleasers may seem like good folks to have around. The moniker people-pleaser certainly sounds more positive than people-irritator or people-anger-er. However, there are many situations where people-pleasers can be the very opposite of pleasing, which may not be what people-pleasers necessarily want to hear.” How to Deal With People-Pleasers Who Go Too Far


“I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.” — Robin Williams


A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Midlife Cues and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on exploring how to navigate, thrive, and turn midlife into the best phase in our life.